N ightingale took a minicab to Gosling Manor first thing the next day and drove the MGB back to London. It was mid-morning when he got to the office. He put a brown paper bag on Jenny’s desk. ‘Muffins and croissants,’ he said. ‘The breakfast of champions.’
Jenny looked up from a stack of printed sheets. ‘Did you bring coffee as well?’
‘Don’t go all gift horse on me,’ said Nightingale. ‘You know your coffee’s much better than their mass-produced stuff.’
She looked inside the bag. ‘Banana chocolate chip,’ she said. ‘My favourite.’
‘Glad I can do something right,’ he said, leaning against the edge of her desk. ‘So what’s happening?’
‘I’ve been looking at suicides in Abersoch,’ said Jenny.
‘Now why on earth would you be doing that?’
‘From what you said, there’s no doubt that Constance Miller killed herself. But the cops seem determined to pin it on you, right?’
Nightingale nodded. ‘Yeah, that was weird. It’s as if they wanted it to be murder. They wanted to turn it into something that it wasn’t.’
‘That’s what I thought,’ said Jenny, breaking a chunk off one of the muffins and popping it into her mouth.
Nightingale looked over at the coffee-maker and Jenny sighed.
He grinned. ‘You really are psychic, aren’t you?’ As Jenny went over to the coffee-maker he picked up the printed sheets.
Jenny looked over her shoulder. ‘I started by Googling suicides in Wales,’ she said.
‘Do you know how many women have killed themselves in Wales over the past two years?’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘It’s a pretty depressing place,’ he said.
‘You are so Welshist,’ she said.
‘Bollocks – some of my best friends are Welsh. How many?’
‘Just over three hundred,’ she said. ‘Which, considering the size of the population, is about average for the UK.’
‘So, I’ve been looking at the suicide rate for the area around Abersoch. And it’s way up. Much higher than average.’ She took two coffees over to her desk, gave one to Nightingale and sat down.
‘I’m listening,’ he said.
‘Here’s the thing. Every year between five and six thousand people kill themselves in the UK. Tends to be more in a recession, fewer when things are going well.’
‘Makes sense,’ said Nightingale, tapping out a Marlboro.
‘Men are more likely than women to kill themselves.’ She grinned. ‘Probably all that testosterone. So the suicide rate for men is just under seventeen for every hundred thousand. That’s about three-quarters of the total. For every one woman who takes her own life, three men do the same.’
‘We die younger too,’ said Nightingale. ‘It really isn’t fair.’ He lit his cigarette and blew a perfect smoke ring up at the ceiling.
‘This is serious, Jack,’ said Jenny, leaning forward. ‘The national suicide rate for women aged between fifteen and forty-four is the lowest of any group. Fewer than five per hundred thousand. Which means that in Wales, with its population of just under three million, you’d expect fewer than a hundred and fifty women of that age to kill themselves. That’s equivalent to three hundred over two years.’
‘Which is about right, you said.’
She took the printed sheets from him and fanned them out, then handed one back to him. It was a map with red dots on it. ‘Yes, for the country as a whole. But then I looked at the area around Abersoch. Abersoch gets crowded during the summer months but at this time of year it’s only locals living there and they number about a thousand. So, statistically, you’d expect fewer than one suicide a year among women. But so far this year there have been three.’
Nightingale nodded thoughtfully as he looked at the map. ‘Okay, but suicides sometimes come in clusters. We had a rash of them in south London when I was a cop. Teenager topped herself and posted her suicide note on Facebook; within six months two others had followed suit. There was a bit of a panic on for a while but then it all died down.’
‘This is different, Jack,’ she said. ‘This has been going on for five years now, at least. That’s as far back as I’ve gone so far.’
‘What exactly do you think has been going on?’
She gave him another sheet, this one a map of Wales. Like the first map, it was dotted with red circles. ‘I widened the search area to include Caernarfon and a few other towns within an hour’s drive of Abersoch. That takes the population up to almost twenty thousand. With a population of that size you might expect one woman a year to commit suicide. Again, it’s just between the ages of fifteen and forty-four we’re looking at. The suicide rate starts to go up with age after that, obviously.’
‘Why obviously?’ asked Nightingale.
‘Older people get sick, Jack. They get cancer and they have strokes and they get heart disease and a lot decide to end it themselves. People die after being married for years and their spouses can’t go on alone.’
Nightingale shivered. ‘You’re painting a pretty depressing picture of old age.’
‘Well, if you know any good points, let me know,’ said Jenny. ‘Look, if you had two women killing themselves then that could possibly be a statistical variation, but any more than that really should set alarm bells ringing.’
‘The suspense is killing me,’ said Nightingale. ‘How many were there?’
‘This year, six. Constance Miller was the sixth. And last year there were five. There were five the year before that. Over the past five years there have been twenty-four suicides when you would have expected five at the most.’
Nightingale took a long pull on his cigarette but didn’t say anything.
‘I did a cross-check with a similar-sized population in south Wales,’ she said. ‘It came in bang in line with expectations.’
‘And no one has spotted this?’
She pressed a button on her keyboard. An article from the Cardiff Mail flashed up on the screen. ‘The local press has run a few stories on it, trying to link the suicides to activity on various social networking sites.’
‘What, suicide becomes fashionable so everyone wants to do it? That’s what they reckoned was happening in London. The me-too factor. Peer pressure.’
Jenny nodded earnestly. ‘That’s pretty much how they’re playing it, yeah,’ she said. ‘They ran a couple of articles but then the story just died.’
Nightingale nodded at the screen. ‘Why are you so interested in all this?’
‘We got her name from the Ouija board. There has to be some reason for that.’
‘Coincidence,’ said Nightingale.
‘You don’t believe that,’ said Jenny. ‘We were trying to talk to Robbie and you were sent to Abersoch and Connie Miller killed herself just as you got there. That can’t be a coincidence, and you know it. You were sent there for a reason, Jack.’
Jenny took a deep breath. ‘Okay, this is what I think. What if someone is killing women and making it look like suicide?’
‘You mean a serial killer?’
‘What better way of hiding your murders than making them look like suicides?’
‘And you’re saying that whoever it is has killed two dozen women in the last five years?’
‘I’m saying it’s a possibility, yes.’
‘So why aren’t the Welsh cops onto it?’
‘Maybe they are,’ she said. ‘Maybe that’s why they were so keen to pin Connie Miller’s killing on you. You might have been their serial killer.’
‘But they don’t want to start a panic so they’re keeping mum?’ said Nightingale. He nodded thoughtfully. ‘You could be right.’ He took a long pull on his cigarette and blew smoke. ‘So why did Robbie tell us to go to Abersoch? Why did he send us to Constance Miller?’
‘That’s the question, isn’t it?’ said Jenny.
‘It’s a hell of a mistake. We ask him where my sister is and he sends me off to a serial killer’s latest victim.’ He shrugged. ‘The more I think about it, the more I wonder if Constance Miller actually is my sister.’
‘I thought the Welsh cops ruled that out?’
‘Cops are cops,’ said Nightingale. ‘Most of the time they operate with tunnel vision. Just because they think she’s not my sister doesn’t mean that’s gospel. Until a few weeks ago, I thought Bill and Irene were my biological parents. If someone had ever told me that I was adopted I’d have laughed in their face. Gosling was very good at covering his tracks.’ He blew more smoke up at the ceiling. ‘I’ve got to go back to Abersoch.’
‘Maybe she is my sister. Maybe the cops are wrong. I have to find out for sure.’ He pointed at Jenny’s computer. ‘Can you go on line and find me a hotel for tonight? I’ll go home and pick up some stuff. And see if you can get an address for Constance Miller’s parents off the electoral roll.’
Jenny winced. ‘Are you sure that’s a good idea?’
Nightingale pushed himself off her desk and headed for the door. ‘No, but it’s the only one I’ve got at the moment.’